The U.S. Department of Justice has made a move toward establishing that discrimination based on sexual orientation is sex discrimination, already banned by federal law.
The move, BuzzFeed reports, came in response to a lawsuit filed by a former Federal Aviation Administration employee who alleges he suffered discrimination for being gay. The Justice Department, tasked with defending the FAA, did not seek to have the suit dismissed by contending such discrimination is not illegal. Instead, it filed a response to the suit Thursday focusing on the facts of the case -- whether the FAA and the employee's colleagues actually engaged in discriminatory behavior, which the Justice Department says they did not.
Former FAA employee David Baldwin sued in U.S. District Court in Florida in October, claiming that when he worked in the control tower at Miami International Airport, he was passed over for promotions and subjected to a hostile environment because he's gay.
Baldwin had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last summer, resulting in the commission's ruling that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a type of sex discrimination banned under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. It gave Baldwin 90 days to sue in federal court.
With his lawsuit, Baldwin hopes to expand the scope of the EEOC ruling, which is binding only on federal agencies and may be interpreted in different ways by various courts regarding other employers. The Justice Department's response is a signal that President Obama's administration endorses the EEOC decision, according to BuzzFeed.
"The Justice Department made the correct call by defending this case on the facts rather than making the outdated and conservative legal argument that the Civil Rights Act does not protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination," Tico Almeida, a civil rights attorney and founder of Freedom to Work, told the site.
With LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress, activists have made the argument that anti-LGBT discrimination is already illegal under the Civil Rights Act's ban on sex discrimination. The EEOC and the Justice Department have already taken the position that the sex discrimination ban covers anti-transgender discrimination, and with this move the Justice Department appears to be in agreement with the EEOC's view on anti-LGB bias as well, BuzzFeed notes.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who heads the Justice Department, and other officials have yet to comment publicly on Thursday's filing.